Monthly Archives: October 2013

Z in the Netherlands

We arrived in Amsterdam last Tuesday , having taken a fairly early flight from Norwich airport, and headed for the Van Gogh museum.  Having heard many times that he only sold one major picture in his lifetime, I hoped we would at last be told which, but it wasn’t mentioned, though I did find out later in the week.  The paintings were fabulous, of course, and included many I didn’t know existed, he was very prolific.  I liked the picture of cherry blossom that he painted for his baby nephew, Theo’s son – which isn’t to suggest I didn’t like many others as well.  He had a bit of a thing about potatoes, I must say.

Most of our party headed off for an early lunch, but I spent a couple of hours in the galleries and only then went for lunch.  I had a broodje kaas, which rather more prosaically translates as a cheese sandwich, and beer.  Because I was on holiday.  Then, because I still had time in hand and it was warm and sunny, I went outside for a stroll around, and spotted a supermarket.  Since the one thing I was determined to take home was salty liquorice, I headed straight for it.  But there was a problem.  Salt is zout and sweet is zoet, but I didn’t know that then and the two words were so similar I couldn’t remember how to spell a word I could pronounce.  I was in a quandary, darlings, we’d have all been so disappointed if I’d taken home the wrong thing.

Fortunately, one variety was labelled in English, so that was the one I bought, four 600g bags of it.  When I got back on the coach, I handed it round and made a few converts.

That was about it for the day, we had booked dinner at our hotel in Delft and were ready for a rest and a bath beforehand.  My friend had hurt her back and was unable to come, so I had a room to myself, which I celebrated by taking all my clothes off and walking around naked for a while, leaving clothes scattered everywhere.  Then I had my bath, dressed and tidied up, because I never leave a hotel room untidy as it’s so rude to the chambermaid.

The next day, we were being shown round Delft by our Dutch guide, Sylvie who was, unsurprisingly, tall, slender and very pretty.  Nearly everyone in Holland is tall, slender and pretty, most of them blonde as well.  It’s a pleasure to be nearly run over by them – bikes are quiet and have the right of way.  It looked sunny from my window, but my weather app warned of cold, so I popped out briefly after breakfast – and then went upstairs and put on a cardigan.  It was indeed very cold, startlingly so.  All the same, we loved walking around Delft, everyone thought it was delightful.  Our hotel was only a quarter of a mile from the main square, which was good for going out for dinner too.

Vermeer lived and worked in Delft but, after he died, his paintings were sold elsewhere and the city owns none of them.  There is a museum, however which, though all the images are reproductions, is well worth a visit, particularly if you use the audio guide, which is very interesting.  It doesn’t describe what you see, but facts about him and how and what he painted.

Later, we went to the Prinsenhof museum, one of the approved Delft potteries (where all the china is hand made and decorated – it’s allowed to be called hand painted if there’s a single brushstroke, but this was the real thing) and then most of us headed for a cup of tea.  I’d had a pannenkoek for lunch, which I don’t need to translate – actually, written Dutch and English have a lot in common, except when you’re completely bemused by a random word.  It was delicious and I’m resolved to make them.  I do make savoury pancakes, but always with a sauce.

A group of us went out to a fish restaurant that evening and it was really lovely.  Portions are large, we could only manage a single course. My fish was perfectly cooked, two large fillets of sea bass on a bed of vegetables.  When I got back, it seemed too early to go to bed so I suggested a nightcap.  Strong black coffee for me, but maybe a little something extra…there were three men watching football on the television behind the bar, they made way for me and chatted in a friendly way, especially the most good looking of them, who was charming.  We got on very well, I asked what he’d recommend to drink and he suggested genever, as long as I didn’t expect to sleep much.  I hadn’t slept much the previous night, so had a tot.

It wasn’t what I was expecting, which had been gin.  I was asked if I’d like it chilled or room temperature, old or young.  Chilled, I decided, and what was the difference?  Old is stronger.  I chose young.  As so often on the Continent, the drink is poured rather than measured, and is generous.  It’s more like schnapps or perhaps vodka than I thought it would be, strong and very good.  One is supposed to down it in one go, but I wouldn’t do that.  And darlings, I slept like a top, whatever that means.  Very soundly.  It was lovely.

The next day, we headed off to The Hague.

Z clears her to-do list, pretty well

All done, and several more things besides, which turned up last night and today.  I haven’t done anything about the halti mind you, but that’s not at all urgent.  Loads still to do for the Nadfas reports, but I’ve staved off the problem with a bit of writing and an email.

I’m off to fetch Elle shortly and it may take a while.  She has been staying with a different friend each night and managed to leave her bra at the house at one of them.  So she borrowed from last night’s friend.  No, I don’t know how that happened either.  But I’ll ferry her about of course, to fetch one and return the other.

I’m quite puzzled about the number of registrations I have here from spam sites.  Why do they register?  I’ve only had a few comments made, none of which have I accepted, of course.  But they gain nothing by registering, its sole point is to be able to comment.  I have been ignoring them, but they annoy me and I think I’ll have to go through them and remove them all.  When I’ve time.

Z is ondeugend

…which means naughty.  One of the words I’ve retained over the last half century, funnily enough, though I’ve never written it down and had to look up how to spell it.  Anyway, with a stack of work to do, I took a long lunchtime and we went out to eat.  I persuaded Russell to have a pudding (no, I had black coffee) and he bought me flowers.  So things are relatively tranquil at the Zeddery (spell it as you wish, I use at least four different versions) although I had rather a long wait at the airport on my return, and I am procrastinating again by writing this.

On the list for tonight and tomorrow morning …

1 Email two prospective governors and arrange meetings (necessary to do this tonight)

2 Email friend who can tell me a make of halti that Ben doesn’t hate (this can wait)

3 Write the governors’ report for our annual return and accounts.  I have at least gathered together a lot of info (urgent)

4 Go through all the reports that Nadfas chairmen have sent.  Let the incoming secretary know.  One of us has to chase up the people who haven’t contacted us yet.  I have at least gone through the booking forms for next week’s meeting, but again, several people haven’t told us whether or not they are coming.  Deadline is Friday, but we won’t meet it (also urgent)

5 Change spare room bedclothes because lovely Elle is over and is spending tomorrow evening and night with us.  She isn’t daft, she knows I’ll then drive her to Norwich to catch her bus to the airport early the next morning.  It’ll be so good to see her again.  I’ve also invited Charlotte and Miriam for supper and C to stay the night (I don’t need to change that bed, she slept in it last week, but only for a night).  Miriam is in Munich at the Oktoberfest at present (tomorrow morning)

6 Email a staff member to congratulate her on her promotion (tonight)

7 Email all the governors to update them before the AGM on Wednesday (tonight)

That will all take about five or six hours, I should think.  Not too bad, I don’t know what I’m worrying about.

Photos will happen in due course, but possibly not until at least Wednesday night.

Oh look, it’s nearly 6 o’clock.  A little something might help, don’t you think?  Cheers, darlings.


Z is home, not sure what day it is

I’m home, darlings, it’s been a really good holiday but quite tiring.  I was telling Charlotte all I’ve done, but kept having to stop and think.  It was worryingly close to the ‘if it’s Tuesday it must be Belgium’ thing, but it was supposed to be a Dutch art exploration, after all.

There have been so many highlights, I can’t choose, but, as I said before, the startlingly impressive one was the Panorama Mesdag (s pronounced, g is the Dutch hgh sound, usually called guttural but it’s less harsh than that, I think) which was amazing. Otherwise, i don’t know how to choose between the delightful towns, the fabulous pictures, the wonderful scenes.  Oh, and the food was good too.  So was the company.  And I’ve been pleased to find that I remember more Dutch than I thought I did.

I have brought back chocolate, salty liquorice and tulip bulbs, plus a few things to be squirrelled away for a few weeks, and my luggage weighed several more kilos on the way back than on the way out.  I bought very little for myself though, just a pack of liquorice, a pack of tulip bulbs and a little tin of peppermints, which I’ll keep in my bag and refill.

Charlotte is half Dutch and therefore considerably taller than I am and, though she’s been slender all her life, she put on weight while she was in hospital last year.  So, having turned out my larger clothes, I asked her if she’d like to try them before I took them to the charity shop (there were some really nice things there, I’d love to find a good home for them) and she has taken a good number of them.  This evening, she was saying that Miriam needs to have a turn-out before she leaves for Australia and she’s an 8-10, so might i like a look at her stuff?  Miriam is soooo stylish.  And Charlotte bought a leather jacket (look, I’m so unaware that I can’t remember which designer it is, but it’s a good one) in a charity shop and it doesn’t fit her, so apparently it’s coming my way.  Woo.  And Hoo.  Is there a hope I might become well dressed?  If a bit over-youthfully?  I don’t know yet, but it’s possible.

I’ll tell you about the Netherlands tomorrow.  I know it’s early, but I’m nearly ready for bed.  Goodnight, darlings.

Z has packed again

I’m not entirely sure yet how I’m going to get back from the airport. Ro lives nearest, just the other side of Norwich, but he’s going to be out during the day, though home around five. I may have rather a long wait. Russell’s van is still not repaired, apparently, which is his fault as he got a friend to sort things out for him instead of letting Dilly and Al do it, which was what I had asked them to do. I’ve disengaged, I can’t help so there’s no point in worrying.

it really has been a good holiday, though completely different from the Turkish one.  It’s so long since I’ve been to holland and I hope I’ll come again soon, it’s a country I’m very fond of. And it’s so close, the flight from Norwich takes less than an hour. For years, the difficulty of arranging to get away meant that it wasn’t really worth the effort and we just didn’t have holidays. I didn’t mind too much at the time, but now I think I was wrong and should have been firmer about it. And once we could get away, Russell didn’t want to. I suspect he rather regrets that now, but I have asked him to come with me for ten years and he’s always refused.

Our flight isn’t until mid afternoon, so we’re fitting in a visit to the Rijksmuseum first, it having reopened this year after its big refurbishment. I must find time to write it all down, before all the experiences blur into one. An unexpected highlight was the visit to the Panorama Mesdag. Few of us had heard of it before and only one had visited, but it was brilliant. I took photos, but I doubt they’ll give any sort of flavour of how impressive it was.

Z eats out

We’ve been out all day, back in time to get ready for dinner and then by the time I’ve got back to my room again, I’ve been so tired that I’ve just bathed, answered essential emails and gone to bed. All this extreme socialising is taking its toll.  On the other hand, I’ve slept well for two nights now, which is unusual enough.

Tomorrow is our last full day and we’re going to Leiden and Haarlem.  It’s been a delightful day today, the warmest yet after a thunderstorm in the night.  We visited the Kröller-Müller museum at Otterlo and Het Loo palace at Apeldoorn.  The first would have been enough really, the museum is full of wonderful paintings, particularly Van Goghs and there is a park outside with sculptures. You can take a bicycle and scoot around if you want to spend the day there.

Being on my own has its advantages, because I like being quiet and thinking my own thoughts rather than having to keep up a conversation. I went into one room and a couple were deep in conversation, or rather the man was doing most of the talking, waving his arms emphatically. I edged near enough to hear, but he was saying fairly obvious things, no great art criticism. I don’t want to do a lot of analysis about why I like something. And when I was outside, it was just lovely, quiet and peaceful in a beautiful woodland setting. Passing a few words when you met someone was plenty, I didn’t want to talk.  To some people, there’s no great pleasure in experiencing something unless they can share the moment verbally, and fair enough, but it feels like an intrusion to me.  The more I like something the less I want to chatter.

If I have time tomorrow, I’ll put up some photos, but it will have to be from my phone unless I email them to myself, so it might be too much effort.  We are all planning to have a meal together I think, having gone out in small groups each evening up to now. I’m quite puzzled to work out how my clothes have shrunk so much, I can hardly get in to some of them.

They don’t call them the Low Countries for nothing

…As my mother said obscurely when I visited Brussels in early December, some 16 years ago. She meant that, whatever the temperature at home, assume it’ll be colder there. She was right then and it holds true now. Yesterday, the wind was startlingly icy and none of us was quite warm enough. Although fortunately, I had picked up a cardigan that was lying on a chair in the drawing room, at the last minute when I was leaving the house on Monday, and decided to bring it, so was able to put that on.

we explored Delft, which we like very much, and visited the Vermeer centre and Prinsenhof museum. Although Vermeer lived in Delft, the city owns none of his paintings, but it’s a very good exhibition all the same. It has reproductions of them all, explaining how he used different techniques and effects and comparing and contrasting each of them, it was interesting and effective.

just as importantly, we had very good pancakes for lunch (that is, the three friends I was with).  Mine was a mushroom pancake with ham, cheese and tomato. For dinner, we went to a fish restaurant which was superb. The Dutch are hearty eaters (they cycle a lot, are sporty and shiver in the cold wind, they burn off all their food) so we only had one course.  Mine was sea bass fillets (I’d only have one at home, but managed both the fillets I was given) with a dried tomato sauce and it was perfectly cooked.  I was one of five this time, none of them being the ones I’d had lunch with, which works out very nicely on these holidays. We team up in groups quite naturally and feel no obligation always to stick with the same people, but no one has to be alone unless they want to go off for a wander.

The hotel is very good, family run not a chain, and it serves excellent coffee at breakfast. So many places don’t and there’s no excuse nowadays. I like to eat what the locals do, so have been eating bread and cheese for breakfast and am enjoying it, especially the one with caraway seeds.

Last night, I still felt quite sociable when we got back after dinner, so suggested a nightcap and went to the bar to ask for it.  A group of men was propping up the bar, watching football, and we chatted. Well, that is, I was chatted up by a charming young man.  Young enough, anyway, maybe 40 and just flirting enough to be a pleasure without any concern that he’d be difficult to get rid of, you know. I asked advice on local drinks, so was told that jenever was good but might keep me awake. I know of jenever (it can be spelt genever, but is pronounced like the city, neither the guttural Dutch g nor the j pronounced as y) but expected it to be more like gin. It’s actually like schnapps, it’s strong but very good. Although I also had black coffee, it didn’t keep me awake at all and I slept extremely well. You’re offered room temperature or cold, young or old. I asked the difference and was told old was stronger, so chose young – of course I’ll try the alternative another evening. I’ll also add (coming over defensive here) that five of us had shared a single bottle of wine, so I didnt drink much overall.

The New Church, which is only new in comparison to the Old Church, is at one end of the main square in Delft. Both of them are visible from my bedroom window. The town is crisscrossed with canals, it’s built on a number of islands linked by bridges. It’s delightful. I didn’t bring a camera again, so won’t take a lot of photos with my phone, but will show you a few snaps when I have time. Off out shortly. See you later.

Z is in a Low Country

Norwich airport is lovely. And I don’t set off the alarms when I go through the scanner, and the security people are really nice anyway. It’s a short hop, less than an hour, over the North Sea, I can’t think why I’ve left it so many years since my last visit to the Netherlands and I’m not leaving it so long again. Actually, if I did, I’d never come again because the human lifespan isn’t long enough.

I was waiting to go to the loo at the Van Gogh museum in Amsterdam yesterday and it felt like watching a Jacques Tati film. There were roller towels, and when someone went to use one, it was so tightly wound that she tugged and couldn’t free it. So she went to the next one, pulled and the end came out – that is, it had reached the end of the roll and it came free. Startled, she looked around guiltily in case she had broken it, hastily dried her hands and scuttled out. A minute later, the machine whirred and sucked the end of the towel back in. The woman next to me was watching too and we exchanged joyfully amused glances. Someone else went to dry their hands, attempted two machines, used the final couple of inches of a towel, was shocked when it sucked that towel back and hurried out, hands still damp. The next woman couldn’t puzzle it out at all and gave up, shaking her wet hands as she left. I was shaking with silent hilarity by this time and an attendant was opening the machines to change the towels.  When it came to my turn, I knew the way to deal with the towel was by being assertive and dried my hands successfully. At least it wasn’t a hot air machine but a real towel.

I am on an organised trip, but we don’t go around in a group and I had spent a good hour at the museum before going in search of lunch. The odd thing was that I hadn’t seen any of the other members of our party at all, though we had come in together. Nor did I at lunchtime. I would have liked to, I haven’t the best bump of direction and hoped I’d be able to find my way back to where the coach was picking us up to drive us to our hotel in Delft. But it wasn’t a problem, I spent a few minutes checking I knew where it was, then pottered round for an hour. I took the opportunity to dive into a supermarket to buy some salty liquorice, one of my favourite treats, buying four large packs for all the family. I enjoyed speaking my very few words of Dutch again – Charlotte, who grew up in Amsterdam, had been reminding me of some phrases on the way to the airport. Actually, all I really remember with confidence from childhood visits is how to count.  But every little helps. English really is the second language here anyway and, at the airport, most of the signs were in English first, then Dutch – except those giving the direction to the trains, funnily enough.  Many people fly from Norwich to Schipol airport and then on to worldwide destinations, it’s simpler than getting to Heathrow.  It is the lowest airport in the world, being some 17 feet below sea level.